Wisconsin Nature August 18, 2018
Few People Know There’s A Wisconsin Island You Can Walk To
There’s really so much to see and do in Door County that it usually feels impossible to enjoy it all. It can be hard to prioritize where to spend your time, but if there’s one thing you put in the MUST DO column, it should be this. There’s a small island off the east side of the peninsula that you can actually walk to. The water is almost always low enough that a small causeway emerges, creating a land bridge between Cana Island and the mainland.
Way up in Door County, just north of Bailey's Harbor, is one of Wisconsin's coolest gems. Here, on Spike Horn Bay and just north of Moonlight Bay, there's a small island that includes the 89-foot-tall light tower, the original home of the lighthouse keeper and his family, and the oil house where fuel for the light was stored. The Cana Island Lighthouse is more than 140 years old and the island is less than nine square miles total.
The lighthouse is located at the end of a narrow rustic road that runs through a residential area. A parking lot is located on the SE corner of Cana Island Rd and Cana Cove Rd. This is where the adventure begins!
Cana Island is "attached" to the mainland by a small causeway that may or may not have water covering it, depending on tides, rain, snowmelt and more. Come here planning to get your feet wet and dress accordingly. Wear boots or shoes you can get wet, as you never know when things will change.
There is also a tractor and wagon that crosses the narrow land bridge, taking visitors over to the island and the lighthouse. There's just something so adorably quaint about an older gentleman tractoring people across a bit of Lake Michigan.
As you can see from this overhead shot, the water level here is quite low. Most times, the causeway is totally walkable with just a shallow bit of water or none at all. But if you're not willing to brave it, there is the tractor option.
But where else in Wisconsin can you just casually stroll out to an island in a Great Lake that's home to a 140-year-old lighthouse?
This whole area is just truly too stunning for words. It seems impossible that such a magical, unbelievable place is so easily accessible to visitors, much less by foot. Door County has quite a few remote, difficult-to-access places, but this is not one of them. It feels like it should be harder; the fact that you can just stroll across the water to this spot seems unfathomable.
Once on the island, muster the energy to climb the 97 steps of a small, spiral staircase to emerge atop the nearly 90-foot tower - you won't regret it. From there, you'll get 360-degree views back towards land and out into Lake Michigan. It's a stunning, spectacular experience. You'll also get to be up close and personal with the old lighthouse that served as a beacon for ships on the Great Lakes. According to the Door County Maritime Museum, "when the lighthouse was originally constructed from Milwaukee cream city brick in 1869, it was the tallest brick structure in Door County. In the early 1900s, the brick was encased in protective steel cladding."
A bit away from the light pollution of the towns in Door County, the lighthouse truly stands out against the night sky. You can see how its large light would have been so important for boats navigating the waters around here.
According to the Door County Maritime Museum, there's plenty to see, learn and explore on the island. "Those who wander the island will find the rock foundations of a boathouse and other structures. A 1920s stone wall, built by a former lighthouse keeper, encircles the east end of the island. Pass through the south gate in the wall and you might see large cables and steel sheets in the rocks. The artifacts are remnants of the freighter M.J. Bartelme that ran aground in fog in 1928."
Who gets to walk to a secluded little island with a historic lighthouse and other amazing things to explore? It's almost incomprehensibly cool and it's right here in Wisconsin for us to visit whenever we want.
Pack up the car and plan for a little Door County road trip to explore this amazing, unique and totally wonderful way to spend a few hours. You'll never forget it.
Cana Island is open from May through October, seven days a week, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. The last tower climb starts at 4:30 p.m. each day. It is located at 8800 E Cana Island Rd, Baileys Harbor, WI 54202.
For more information, check in with the Door County Maritime Museum either
on their website or at the lighthouse’s Facebook page.
Looking for more stunning Wisconsin islands to explore?
Check out this island resort where you can truly get away from it all.